The Usefulness of the Cup

For those of you who don’t know it, Bruce Lee was not just THE master of kung fu. He was also a great thinker. An indication of this is of course how he critically analysed classical or traditional martial art forms such as karate and kung fu and deconstructed them to create the belief-system, Jeet Kune Do. I like to think of Jeet Kune Do as a postmodern take on the traditional fighting styles.

BRUCE LEE – Hong Kong-born martial arts expert and film actor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I remember finding karate really boring and stifling when I practised it as a teen. I lasted about a year and then left the dojo. But in my room and at the local gym,  I would continue to follow Bruce’s heuristic method of martial arts. This is the notion of self-knowledge through self-discovery.  Essentially the idea is to be able adapt to specific situations and opponents/attackers.  There are no katas or set moves, so there are no fixed stances as in classical martial art styles. Lee believed fixed stances and forms were rigid and had no place in martial arts. They are inflexible to change, and do not represent actual fighting situations. In Jeet Kune Do, drills are used that are fluid and alive and always changing. This is why I say that Lee’s thinking about martial arts was postmodern: it presents many solutions to many questions, and is never fixed.

Interception is the leading principal of  Jeet Kune Do. This is reflected in its name which means ‘Way of the Intercepting Fist.’ If you are merely blocking an attack it means you are at a disadvantage.  You are only reacting to the attack, reactive instead of being pro-active. It is better to simultaneously block and strike, or even better, to just hit first. The physical goal of Lee’s art is perpetual development of physical speed, timing, footwork, coordination and power.

 

In order to understand it, Lee advised emptying yourself. He uses an analogy to explain:

A learned man once went to a Zen teacher to inquire about Zen. As the Zen teacher explained, the learned man would frequently interrupt him with remarks like, “Oh, yes, we have that too…” and so on. Finally the Zen teacher stopped talking and began to serve tea to the learned man. He poured the cup full, then kept pouring until the cup overflowed. “Enough!” the learned man once more interrupted. “No more can go into the cup!” “Indeed, I see,” answered the Zen teacher. “If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?”

So for Lee the usefulness of the cup is its emptiness. As an artist this is a philosophy I ascribe to: as student, teacher and practitioner.  If you want to learn, first acknowledge you know nothing. Empty your cup. Then learn by allowing yourself to be filled from the source you have come to. After that you can take what you have learnt and make it your own and pass on what you have learnt. I still do this as a Masters student .  As the poet, Keats, once proclaimed:  My Imagination Is a Monastery and I am its Monk.

As a lecturer though, I warn my students not to get so focused on the tasks that the art degree sets them that they forget to experience the sheer joy of their journey: the joy of learning, of making, and of doing this with people who are like-minded. But I mostly remind them of their love of art and how it feels to express themselves visually.  Bruce Lee again illustrates this beautifully using the analogy of a finger pointing to the moon:

Please do not take the finger to be the moon or fix your gaze so intently on the finger as to miss all the beautiful sights of heaven. After all, the usefulness of the finger is in pointing away from itself to the light which illuminates finger and all.

Go to Lee’s official site if you are interested in finding out more:

https://bruceleefoundation.org/2016/05/whatisjeetkunedo/

The reason learning has been on my mind recently is because I have been, over these past 3 months, hectically involved with university matters, both as student and as lecturer. It is quite a surreal experience to be both. You become very aware of the symbiotic relationship involved in the learning process. It is rarely a one way thing.

I recently had to attend a postgrad seminar as a requirement of my Masters degree. As I presented an overview of my dissertation to the university board a part of me reflected on my students’ experiences and what they must feel when facing my fellow lecturers and me.  Faced with the arduous task of attempting to make the connections between my theory and my art-making understandable to a group of professors and doctors, I felt a huge wave of empathy roll over me for my students. I have been in the fortunate position to have been the student, then the lecturer, and now both the student and lecturer. And isn’t that just how life should be?:  to be open to learning, to be willing to pass on knowledge, to share experience. Most important is to acknowledge when you do not know something.  Not knowing is OK. What is not OK is ignorance. Ignorance is you assuming you know more than you do. Prejudices and racism originate in ignorance. Be a better person than that.

One of Six

In my previous post I spoke about one of my favourite movies of all time, Beetlejuice (1988). Another that I love is The Crow (1993).

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I mention this because I managed to get a copy of the movie on blu-ray recently and then watched it last weekend. This weekend I took the time to watch the extras on the disc, one of which was an interview with the lead actor, Brandon Lee. Lee died whilst making the movie which is kind of tragic and ironic and creepy all rolled up into one because the movie is about returning from the dead to set things right. This is also made all that more poignant because of the fact that Brandon was the late great Bruce Lee’s son. Bruce Lee was one of the few male role models I had as a teen and I would often spend hours in my bedroom training, trying to perfect Jeet Kune Do. Jeet Kune Do was Bruce Lee’s personal style of kung fu. In the Warner Brothers film, Enter the Dragon (1973), when Lee is asked, “What’s your style?”, he simply replies, “My style? .You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.”

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He often referred to it as “the art of expressing the human body”. Lee believed that martial art styles had become too rigid and unrealistic. He called martial art competitions of the day “dry land swimming”. He believed real combat was spontaneous, and a martial artist could not predict it, but only react to it. A good martial artist should “be like water”—move fluidly without hesitation. Bruce Lee died at the age of 32 from a brain aneurism. Lee had just completed making ,

Enter the Dragon, the most successful martial arts movie of all time.

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On March 31, 1993, 20 years later, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, died of a gunshot wound during the filming of The Crow in an accident involving a prop gun. The Crow, like Enter the Dragon, was tremendously successful and became a cult movie. Like father like son.

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In the interview that I mentioned (Brandon) Lee is tremendously engaging, and really speaks so eloquently and passionately. He quotes a passage from Paul Bowles’ book, The Sheltering Sky, which I really love and that I want to share with you:

Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. And yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, or five times more? Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless…

It was a quote that was to appear on his wedding invitations and instead now appears on his tombstone. Take what you will from this, as you must from whatever life throws at you. And with that I return to my life and what is going on.

So my first week of six weeks of fasting is done and dusted! This in preparation for my performance piece, 40RTY. I have to admit it was a bit of a slog. I have cut out all processed foods and animal products. So no dairy (man, I miss CHEESE!), no meat (I don’t do meat anyway), no eggs, no soya even, as soya products are processed. That leaves me with raw vegetables and fruits and their juices. In the first three days I felt as if I had the flu which is quite normal as your body detox’s: headachey, tired, cranky. In addition I developed cold sores on the sides of my mouth. But by Friday I was feeling a little better if somewhat lightheaded. Lots of cravings also and cursing myself for putting me through all of this. I went for a run on the Saturday after work and really struggled, just no gas/energy. I am here to tell you that fasting sweat really reminds you that you are just an animated meat-shape. Then on Saturday night, like a switch clicking on,suddenly I was no longer tired, I was the opposite. This means that I have barely got any sleep since then because I am all of a sudden seriously hyper! That’s bad because I am normally like that anyway, so I am literally hyper-hyper! So now it is Monday and I have 34 days until my performance! In reality though the performance has already begun and it started the moment that I began fasting. The idea is that by doing this, when I walk into the gallery space and present my performance, my mind will already be so focused (40 days of fasting will achieve this) that I will seamlessly progress from one to the other (fasting to performance) with the exclusion of all else. I will be, quite literally, a work of art. In addition I have been working on my installation which is really coming along nicely. I am excited to see it in the gallery space. I imagine it will be quite something!